Women's Work, Automation, and Artisanal Labor
There were some posts going around tumblr a while back about how work that becomes perceived as feminine or female tends to become devalued. The unconscious feeling seems to be something like "Well, if a woman can do it, then it can't be all that important/impressive/valuable.".
Something structurally very similar (though of course far less problematic) also happens with automation. The introduction of photography caused a shift away from realism in painting; advances in artificial intelligence cause redefinitions of intelligence; there are probably more examples but these cases are especially clear.
"If a machine can do it, then it can't be all that important, impressive, and valuable."
There exists the concept of "artisanal" goods and services.
It seems to me that there are two major categories of thinking about artisanal labor (or three, if you count buying "artisanal" goods without actually thinking about the artisans at all).
The first model is relatively wealthy people practicing artisanal crafts as a hobby rather than a livelihood; they take up pottery or basketweaving in the same way they might take up piano or golf. The activity serves as a conspicuous waste of time in order to signal wealth, like henna tattoos or complicated hairstyles or poetry.
The second model is people in poor regions practicing Traditional Crafts with Honest Labor that is Good for the Soul. Of note is that the relatively wealthy people who think in these terms would never engage in such labor themselves; they might spend an afternoon or a weekend throwing pots recreationally (see above), but if someone seriously suggested that they try to subsist on the kind of Soul-Enriching Low-Paying Hard Labor that they consider so appropriate for faraway poor foreign people, they would be rightly offended. When used in this sense, "artisanal" is a term of possibly-well-meaning condescension, like "quaint".
Alex considers a particular form of work to be appropriate for Bob. When someone suggests that Alex engage in that form of work, he considers it beneath him. What does that say about his opinion of Bob?
I suspect that a lot of people might be using both of the models above, and not realizing that they're switching models mid-argument. Throwing pots is a pleasant and status-enriching activity for wealthy people who do it recreationally, so obviously it must also be pleasant and status-enriching for poor people who do it to survive!
That said, most people who think this way do not actually engage in artisanal labor for their own careers, which suggests that there is some awareness of the undesirability of the lifestyle. So this thought-pattern is still probably diagnostic of some sort of problematic memeplex in society.
I am more and more convinced that a guaranteed basic income would be a good idea for society. It's a lot more ethical to create demand for artisanal labor – or any kind of labor – if the people performing that labor don't have to choose between performing it and starving to death. It would create incentive structures much more conducive to a eudaimonic society.
Wouldn't you rather have a guarantee that the people who make your things are doing it because they want to, not just because they have to?
I know I would.